Third Time is a Charm!


This is my painting that I entered into the American Watercolor Society‘s 149th Annual International Exhibition. To my delight it was accepted, and because it is my third time, it means I will receive the coveted Signature Status, allowing me to add “AWS” after my signature on my watercolor paintings. A signature status means that an artist has met the required standards of an art organization signifying a high skill level and achievement in a specific medium. The American Watercolor Society (AWS) is the oldest watercolor organization in the US and had their first annual exhibition in 1867. A few past distinguished members are Winslow Homer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Edward Hopper, William Merrit Chase, Thomas Eakins, Samuel Colman, Charles Burchfield, Gladys Rockmore Davis, Childe Hassam, John LaFarge, Alphonse Mucha, Edward Potthast, Mahonri Young and Andrew Wyeth. I feel honored to be accepted as a signature member and follow in their footsteps!

A few years ago I earned the signature status in the National Watercolor Society (NWS), which is only half as old as the AWS. It has a similar requirement/process. I was just as excited at that time because for both shows I had been rejected for many years and I was ready to give up entering. My persistence paid off! So now I have the status for both of the largest US watercolor organizations. For the American Watercolor Society, the criterion is to get accepted into the annual International Exhibition three times. This is a very difficult accomplishment since getting in just once is a challenge! Each competition has 1200-1600 entries from around the world. The artist may only submit one image for review, there is an entry fee and entries are submitted digitally. The entries are viewed independently by 5-6 jurors, who must all concur (without discussion). Approximately 140 – 150 paintings are selected to be in the exhibit, so jurors must continue viewing the entries until they select the designated number of paintings. The original art is then shipped, at the artists cost, to the show in New York. Then the art is reviewed in person by an awards jury, who are three different jurors from the selection jury. Any artist qualifying for the signature status is judged separately and must submit two paintings to be juried.

The entire process is quite extensive. As I commented in a previous post, jurors must be exhausted after reviewing art because if they view each image for 30 seconds that would be about 12 hours for the first round of screening. It gives one a better understanding of why it is so important to submit a good photo of your art and the painting needs to be exceptional. An image only has a few seconds to catch the juror’s attention, so it needs to stand out. There are also size requirements and media limitations to be mindful of (no collage or non-water based medium). Also, entries must be from an original source, painted in the past 2 years and not shown in another national or international competition.

The accepted painting, “Diablo’s Delta,” is from a flight I took with a local pilot.  Look closely at the lower right corner, far side of the river and you will see the hangar and little air field we flew out of. We flew late in the day over the Sacramento Delta and you can see Mt. Diablo in the background. It was an amazing flight in a very special plane. I will add more about the flight and plane in a later post.

If you are in New York City be sure to see this great show. You won’t be disappointed! It’s at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10003 from April 4-23, 2016. Selected paintings will then travel around the country to about 8 cities in the next year. Catch the 2015 traveling exhibit at its last stop here in Sacramento, CA. It is at the Sacramento Fine Art Center through April 9, open daily 10-4. The location is 5330-B Gibbons Dr., Carmichel, CA 95608.

Painting the Deckle Edge

“Delta Sunrise” is inspired from a photo I took while flying over the Sacramento River in a 1940’s Piper Cub.  It was an amazing ride, as the pilot had the window open so I could hang out and get photos.  We were so low it felt as though I could almost touch the tree tops!  The passenger sits in front with the instruments, while the pilot sits in back.  It was an odd feeling that left me wondering who was flying the plane.  We took off and then landed in a bumpy field.  I took over 500 photos to paint from and the trip has been my most memorable flight yet.  Many of my recent aerial paintings have been from those photos.
Step 1

You can see that I started with a wash in the river and the sky.  While the sky is still wet I dab tissue to pick up the paint and create the clouds.  Since I don’t stretch my paper and I like to paint to the deckled edge, it is very difficult to do a wash in the sky and river.  I have to be careful not to rest the edge of the paper on the table or it will cause a bloom or backwash where the paper dries at a different rate.  In this painting I had a very difficult time because half the paper was wet and flimsy around the lower three edges.  Typically I pick up the paper and manipulate the wash by moving it around in different directions and upside down, but that was impossible with half the paper dripping wet and flopping!  I hadn’t planned ahead and almost lost the painting because there was no where to hold it as the washes blended and dried.  The lesson learned was to tape my paper on the underside to a piece of foam core board just smaller than my paper, but with an area that I can hold so that the paper can be manipulated while wet.  I also learned to use some small wooden blocks to set under the edges of the paper as it dried to hold it away from the table.

Step 2

I started adding the landscape washes and building up the layers.  I still wasn’t sure if I wanted another wash on the water, so I waited until there were more washes and details in place.

Step 3

I added in more details and started painting the reflections.

Delta Sunrise

In the completed painting you can see where the shadows and reflections really bring out the depth of the painting and ground the viewer.  I love placing the shadows last as the finishing touch.  I was happy that I kept the lower half of the painting all water without the river bank, as I think it really draws the viewer in and gives the feeling I had while I was flying.  I hope it conveys this to the viewer.

“Delta Sunrise” is my painting that was selected for the 148th American Watercolor Society International Exhibition in New York and will be showing at the Salmagundi Club in April.  There are over 1600 entries every year from around the world and only about 150 are chosen by the jury, which consists of five judges that must concur on the selections.  Entries are submitted digitally and each artist is only allowed one entry.  It’s a rigorous process that doesn’t allow the judges to discuss the entries until after the selections have been chosen.  They continue to go through the entries until all the judges concur on the total paintings needed.  After the selection, entries are then shipped to AWS and judged for awards by three additional jurors.  I have entered this competition numerous times and have lost count of the number of times I’ve been rejected.  Then in 2013 I was thrilled to get a call that not only was I accepted, but I won a top award!  It was very exciting!  I kept expecting to get another call saying it was all a mistake!  So imagine my excitement when I was notified that I was selected to be in the show this year.  No award, but getting into this prestigious show again is a thrill!  I hope if you are in New York in April you will stop in to see this amazing watercolor show.  It will then travel around the US to several cities in the next year.

New aerial landscape painting – almost finished!

 Watercolor aerial painting in progress Watercolor aerial painting in progressWatercolor aerial landscape in progress


The new aerial landscape painting is almost finished.  I have included the progressive photos so that each stage can be seen.  Note that the left side of the painting has a lot of depth now due to the many layers of watercolor.  I tried to bring in many different colors to make it more rich and realistic.  The foilage actually has some purples, blues and oranges.  The detail photo below shows the small strokes Detail of new aerial landscape paintingof gouache that are added to highlight and define some details lost along the way.   White gouache is commonly used to bring back small areas of white paper that were lost or difficult to save, such as a small reflection.  Gouache is an opaque watercolor, which would be similar to an artist grade poster paint.  I find it works well to add a few leaves and foliage in areas that have a dark color.  I can paint light color foliage over a dark shadow.  Otherwise it would be very difficult to save very small areas of light color unless they were masked out.  Gouache is also a watercolorists’ secret trick to fix little ‘mistakes’ that otherwise couldn’t be saved.  After I finish the right side of the painting I will need to think of a title.  For me that is always a challenge – to come up with an interesting title that captures the essence of the painting.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know!   Finally I will need to sign the painting.  I have a rule for myself that once I sign a painting it is done and I don’t go back to make changes.  Otherwise I could work on a painting forever and never consider it done!  So sometimes it will sit a few days after its finished so that I can be sure I am ready to sign my name to it!  Hopefully I will have it completed for the upcoming studio tour.  


Artist note:  I did finish this painting and it sold at my open studio tour.  You may see the painting in my “Gallery” section under “Earthscapes” or “Recent Works”.  (Giclee’ prints are available).


New aerial landscape painting progress (inspired by flying in a Piper Cub)

Stage 2 - new aerial watercolor landscape painting in progressHere is my new watercolor painting in progress.  The inspiration for the image is from when I went flying over the Sacramento River and farmlands in California.  I flew in a 1940’s Piper Cub plane, which can fly very low (about 75-100 feet) and can fly slow (about 75 mph). It was perfect for taking photos to paint my aerial landscape paintings.  I got to sit in the ‘front’ of the plane while the pilot sat behind me.  It was quite an experience because I was looking out the front window and the instrument panel was in front of me with the controls moving on their own.   It felt like no one was flying the plane!  The pilot kept the windows open so that I could hang out a bit and get some good photos to use for paintings.  I made sure to hang onto my camera!  We flew over herds of cattle, vineyards, rice fields and orchards.  We also flew close to a wind farm near Rio Vista.  My favorite part of the flight was flying low over the Sacramento River.  It felt as though we could touch the river and boats.  We even flew over a draw bridge.  


You can start to see the shadows of the painting being layed down, which is starting to give the painting some depth.  We were flying very early in the morning so the trees created long shadows on the river, which gives some great contrast and drama.  As I mentioned in the first post the layers of watercolor paint have to be built up from light to dark, so the shadows still have more layers to be added, as do the trees and bushes.  At this stage the painting looks a bit flat, but there is some suggestion of depth developing.  I will probably leave the right side of the a painting blank until I finish the left side so that I can determine how dark the tree shadows over the river will need to be.   It’s already looking very different than the first post image.  Stay posted to see the progress!


New aerial landscape painting

Aerial landscape watercolor painting in progressI have started a new aerial landscape painting in my Earthscape series.  It is based on a photo I took while flying in a 1940s Piper Cub above the Sacramento River in California.  


First I draw out the image on 140 pound Arches cold press watercolor paper.  I don’t tape or stretch my paper in the traditional manner as I like to keep the deckled edge, which is the ragged edge of the paper left from when it was made.  This can cause some challenges since the water can pool and buckle the paper, which can make it hard to paint on.  Although it can also make for some interesting effects.  If I need a smaller size paper than the traditional size of 22″ X 30″, then I use a straight edge to tear the paper first before painting so that all the edges are deckled.  I usually start painting the river area first so that I can lay down a wash of blues.  I wet the paper with clean water, then add various blues and let the colors bleed and blend on their own.  While the paper is wet I manipulate the paint while it’s still fluid by holding the paper vertically and slowly moving it in different directions to get an even blend.  For darker areas I add more paint and let it bleed into the wet paper.  Sometimes I need to do several layers of this before I get the desired effect.  The next layer is added when the paper is dry  otherwise the painting may turn muddy.  That is one of the challenges of watercolor – working from light to dark and carefully building up layers without the colors becoming muddy, yet still keeping the translucency.   A dark color is built up in many layers of color, not just applied in one thick coat.  The river may need more layers, but I will decide before I move to the next step, which will be painting in the shadows on the river.  Usually a watercolor doesn’t look finished until the very end due to the many layers that are built up over time.  


Check back as I post new images as the painting progresses.  I hope to have this painting completed (and a few more) for the studio tour in Sept.  Check my “Upcoming Events” page for details. If you want to be on the email list or snail mail  to receive a postcard about the studio tour then make sure I have your current info.